You can bank on it

It wasn’t so long ago that banking was viewed as a highly respectable profession – yes, seriously – and for many middle class families the prospect of a banker, or even better a bank manager, in the family was something to brag about. A bank manager in particular had the added bonus of not just being a prestigious professional job, but one with social cachet as well, particularly so in regional and rural Australia.

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Serious looking bank buildings used to be a central part of any shopping precinct and sitting right in the middle of the West End, at the intersection of Bellevue and Hunter Streets, is a particularly spectacular example. Here is a former branch of Australia’s first and oldest bank, the Bank of New South Wales, which went up in 1939-1940.

It is a slick, streamlined Art Deco structure which wraps seamlessly around its corner location and is such a well-known landmark that even now, years after the bank’s closure, everyone still calls the site Bank Corner. It is so much a unique part of Newcastle that the blog The Novocastrian Files lists the term ‘Bank Corner’ in its quasi-dictionary called Newy Speak. This is an essential list of Newcastle terminology and is a must read for visitors and newcomers, Newy Speak’s aim is to have you sounding like a local in no time.

Most intriguingly this is not the first bank on the site. A bank has sat on this corner since the 1880s, when the first gracious two-storey building with its Victorian domed roof (irreverently nicknamed ‘The Pepperpot’ by locals because of its shape) lent an air of gentility to this part of the city. Back then it was the Australian Joint Stock Bank, then the Australian Bank of Commerce, eventually merging with the Bank of New South Wales in 1931. It was the bank itself which formalised the phrase we now all use; in 1937 it re-named the site ‘the Bank Corner branch’ to distinguish it from its other branch in the West End.

Bank Corner’s glory days may be gone, but if you stand on the opposite side of Hunter Street and look up at the top of the building faded ghostly letters still spell out Bank of New South Wales. Inside the glorious fluted detailing remains on doorways, windows, handrails and even light fittings. Around the corner in Bellevue Street, at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop adjoining Bank Corner, the building’s stylish Art Deco legacy also lives on; but that is a story for another time. Stay tuned.

Bank Corner, 744 Hunter Street, Newcastle West. Photos of the two banks which have occupied this site and the current building’s construction can be found at Hunter Photo Bank http://collections.ncc.nsw.gov.au; ABC Open Now and Then: Series 2 https://open.abc.net.au and in the book Newcastle: The Missing Years by Greg and Sylvia Ray (2010).

Kimberly O’Sullivan

Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: kimberly@netspace.net.au; 0413 250 155.

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